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Jul 28, 2015 6:16 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Flanders Group Vows To Raise Ruckus Unless Town Reverses Course On Snowblower Purchase

Heavy snowfall this past winter blocked sidewalks and bus stops in Flanders and Riverside, causing concerns from residents about the town's lack of snow removal equipment.  PRESS FILE
Jul 29, 2015 11:24 AM

The Southampton Town Board’s decision to forgo purchasing two sidewalk snowblowers last week for the Highway Department has some residents voicing concerns about pedestrian safety this upcoming winter.

After consecutive years of heavy snowfall and lackluster sidewalk clearing, which forced some people, particularly in the less affluent parts of town, to walk on high-traffic streets, one community group is prepared to pressure the Town Board to reconsider its decision.

Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association President Vince Taldone said this week that if the board does not reverse its decision, he and others are ready to take their fight to Town Hall.

“We’ll go before the Town Board and cause a ruckus,” Mr. Taldone said. “I hope it doesn’t come to that, and they just figure it out—don’t make all these people spend a whole day in Town Hall explaining why they don’t want to walk in the street.”

Mr. Taldone actually attended Tuesday evening’s Town Board meeting and politely asked members to reconsider their stance and buy the equipment. Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst told him that the board would revisit the issue when it begins the budgeting process for next year, adding that the town could contract out snow removal this winter as a stopgap option.

With as much as 38 inches of snow falling in a single night in parts of the municipality last winter, the town’s current snow removal practices did little to help the plight of those forced to wait for buses or walk to work and stores. In some cases, the plowing made it slightly worse: Snow and slush would get pushed off to the side of the roads by street plows and end up frozen in place.

Meanwhile, the town’s sidewalk equipment—two 1955 push plows and three 1970s-era snowmobiles with plows attached to the front—could only handle about 8 inches of snow before being overwhelmed.

Large lingering piles of snow and ice prevented people from using roads and accessing bus stops, a particular issue for the working-class families of Flanders, Riverside and Northampton, Mr. Taldone noted, many of whom do not have access to cars. Mr. Taldone, who cannot drive because of poor eyesight, said he was fortunate enough to call for a car when he needed a ride, a luxury afforded to few in his neighborhood.

“As I was being driven I felt terribly embarrassed,” he said, recalling scenes of mothers and young children walking along the shoulder of Flanders Road in the dead of winter. “This is Southampton, and these are the working-class people who make it sparkle, walking in the gutter—all because the town won’t buy a snowblower. It’s ridiculous.”

Despite advocacy from Town Councilman Brad Bender, a former FRNCA president who lives in Northampton, the Town Board denied a request by Southampton Town Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor to purchase two industrial-quality riding snowblowers for $145,000 each—one for each side of the Shinnecock Canal.

Mr. Gregor said the blowers, which are about 50 inches wide and roughly 5 feet tall with enclosed cabs and diesel engines, would be able to effectively clear snowfalls of up to 20 inches at a time. He added that the snowblowers can double as street cleaners and lawnmowers, and they have a life expectancy of about 30 years.

“We have about 40 miles of state and county sidewalk that we’re obliged to maintain and another 50 miles of town sidewalk to maintain,” Mr. Gregor said. “And once the snow gets more than a few inches high, our plows can’t do anything about it.

“Unfortunately, we’ve gotta upgrade,” he continued, “but they can’t get it through their head. They have a road system that they have to maintain.”

On Monday Ms. Throne-Holst wrote in an email that the Town Board did not want to commit to the purchase because it already has a “large number of capital and operational budget considerations” that have to be factored in, which, in addition to a stringent 0.7-percent cap on the tax levy, puts the town in a tough spot as it begins to assemble its 2016 budget.

Ms. Throne-Holst noted that the prospect of purchasing new equipment is not entirely dead, writing: “There is still time before snow season is upon us and the budget should be well in hand, and the Town Board in a better position to make individual determinations.”

But Mr. Gregor warned that such equipment generally takes several months to arrive once it is ordered, meaning the window of opportunity is rapidly closing to have the equipment ready for the first snowfall.

In her email, Ms. Throne-Holst noted that the Highway Department’s budget has increased by nearly 30 percent, from $11.2 million to $14.5 million, since 2010, while keeping its staff size at 63. She added that, in that same time, highway fund taxes have increased 13 percent as general fund taxes have decreased 11 percent.

Mr. Gregor said he had to spend an extra $2 million of his $9.2 million budget on unexpected repairs because of an increase in potholes, particularly on Speonk-Riverhead Road in Speonk and Northampton, as well as Noyac Road and Majors Path in North Sea.

Noting its stellar credit rating, Mr. Taldone suggested that the town float a bond to pay for the new equipment.

“They’ve not been borrowing terribly—they have the best bond rating out there, so either bond the project or put up the money now,” he said. “We can’t wait to talk about this next winter as women and children are walking through the gutter with cars and trucks whizzing by.”

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Good for them. Can't clear the sidewalks and roads if you don't have the equipment to do so.
By GoldenBoy (351), EastEnd on Jul 29, 15 8:18 AM
1 member liked this comment
Well, the fact is, is that we've been treated like the red-headed step-child for decades -- even when Tony Gill was a Councilman -- so good luck on a "ruckus."

I actually think a march on Town Hall with pitch forks, rakes and shovels is what's needed!
By On the Beach (1), Westhampton Beach on Jul 29, 15 11:20 AM
Let us know when the "ruckus" is going down- wanna make sure to keep clear of these roughnecks. Will there be disapproving glares and stern rebukes in the ruckus? Perhaps some gravelly ha-rumphing!
By CaptainSig (716), Dutch Harbor on Jul 29, 15 9:01 AM
1 member liked this comment
Do you see the ineptitude of the current appointees at town hall? No thank you. While Gregor has made some questionable choices, I have seen some effort on his part. His downfall is relationship with the board. No money no work gets done.
By GoldenBoy (351), EastEnd on Jul 29, 15 10:33 AM
2 members liked this comment
Isn't clearing snow from sidewalks the responsibility of the adjacent property owner?
By VOS (1241), WHB on Jul 29, 15 1:10 PM
It should not be. What are the elderly, ill, and indigent supposed to do? The affluent can always hire someone to do it for them. Besides, don't you think we pay enough taxes?
By Nukiepoo (123), Southampton on Jul 30, 15 12:30 PM
you forgot the "lazy"
By CaptainSig (716), Dutch Harbor on Jul 30, 15 6:13 PM
A 50" wide snowblower isn't going to help the sidewalks
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Jul 29, 15 1:45 PM
Oh my , be afraid very afraid! Ridiculous!!!

By bayview (160), Southampton on Jul 30, 15 1:17 PM
its snow people
life goes on
maybe we will get zero inches next year like in the 2000s
By llimretaw (118), watermill on Jul 30, 15 4:39 PM